Dead Space 3, A Ten Year Reunion
The Dead Space series is up there with the best in the genre. It’s a series that perfectly blends action and horror in a way no other game series has done since. It’s one of my all-time favourites, sitting up there with the likes of Resident Evil. After a long hiatus, and a somewhat disappointing successor in The Callisto Protocol, we’ve finally seen the return of the franchise in the new Dead Space remake. Thankfully, the remake has successfully managed to bring the franchise back from the brink, with a phenomenal recreation of the original game.
Dead Space 3 is now ten years old and is considered by many to be the weakest in the franchise. It’s hard not to see why, since the franchise went on a long hiatus ever since its release. This isn’t really surprising, considering the original strong Resident Evil 4 influences made for a terrifying new IP. Meanwhile, Dead Space 2 pretty much perfected the action horror genre. The final game in the trilogy made some massive changes to the very core of the franchise, and not all of them paid off. But was it really as bad as people say?
Full spoilers for the Dead Space trilogy.
Dead Space 3 picks up a couple of years after the events of the second game, in which Isaac and Ellie managed to escape the Necromorph outbreak on the sprawl. Isaac is now in hiding and wants absolutely nothing to do with the markers anymore (and who can blame him?!). The world is in shambles as Unitology has grown to extreme lengths managing to overthrow much of EarthGov in an attempt to kickstart convergence. So when Edward Norton of EarthGov comes knocking Isaac isn’t exactly happy. Turns out, they got a tip about a planet that could very well put an end to the marker threat once and for all, but the team is led by Isaac’s ex.
Isaac reluctantly goes along with Ellie’s plan to stop the marker signal. Much of the game takes place on the marker homeworld of Tau Volantis, a frozen planet that was once investigated by humanity over two hundred years ago. Upon arriving planetside, Isaac, Carver, and the rest of the crew gets split up, but meets up in an old SCAF facility that was investigating the markers over two hundred years ago. They come up with a plan to find the location of the ancient alien machine.
Because Norton is incredibly jealous of Isaac and Ellie, he decides to contact the Unitologist leader and bring him to Tau Volantis. WHY?! If this guy really wanted Isaac dead, why not do it himself instead of contacting the army on the planet that will let them accomplish their goals? It’s an incredibly dumb and out-of-character move even for Norton, who dies immediately after Danik arrives anyway. It’s this forced love triangle that makes the Dead Space 3 story so underwhelming. Removing Norton from the story or changing his character to be more focused on the mission would fix a lot of issues here.
Not much later, Ellie and Isaac make up and they head off to finally put an end to the marker signal. They uncover the truth and discover the machine is not the source of the marker signal, and it was actually an alien race that stopped the markers by freezing Tau Volantis during the convergence event. The moons are a collection of Necromoprhs that form a planetary body known as a brethren moon. Isaac and Carver must then try to stop Danik from turning off the machine and resuming the convergence. Of course, they fail after Carver hands the Codex over to Danik in return for Ellie, and a final boss with the moon commences. Isaac and Carver kill the moon, re-activate the machine and put an end to convergence once and for all. (Just a side note; this does happen, trust me)
To say Dead Space 3 was an underwhelming and frustrating end to the trilogy is an understatement. For everything, it does right with the story it tells in an incredibly dumb way. As much as I love the wild nature of the Brethren Moon twist; having Isaac accidentally explain it in an exposition dump to the villain feels like a contrived way to get the final act moving. Character motivations are really poor and Norton’s betrayal makes absolutely no sense. It’s a bit of a shame because there are some genuine moments; like Carver’s hallucinations providing much-needed development.
The story of Dead Space 3 is a mixed bag, with some awkward writing that brings down what should be a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. However, the gameplay holds up, as long as you can look past the insane changes to the Dead Space formula.
To start, this game leans much more heavily on the action. Depending on who you ask, this could be a good or bad thing. For those who are more into the horror side of Dead Space then this is almost certainly problematic since the horror is mostly gone. This one for the most part is a pure action game with a horror theme. You will fight human enemies alongside the standard Necromorph variations. Thankfully not too often and the core gameplay holds up incredibly well here.
The problem is that Dead Space 3 doesn’t combine action and horror in a satisfying way. Where Dead Space 2 was a constantly tense experience thanks to its high-energy combat mixed with limited resources and great environment design. Dead Space 3 will often have you in large arenas with tons of ammo and resources. Even the Stalker enemy type which still haunts me to this very day is only an annoyance here. Even the regular enemies aren’t as interesting to fight, just shoot for centre mass and they will die, no need for dismemberment.
Dead Space 3‘s biggest crime is the changes to the ammo economy. Ammo is now universal meaning you will have one singular ammo type that will work on every single weapon you have. This is arguably here to make room for the unique weapon crafting which is for the most part excellent. Bringing Isaac’s engineering to the forefront here he is able to craft a multitude of weapons to take into battle. There are some incredible combinations from the goofy rotating line cutter to the incredible telemetry shotgun and force gun combo. It’s a blast to experiment with new weapons constantly. Especially since you will get an absolute wealth of crafting resources to experiment with.
Then you’ve got the little things. Like the absurd amount of elevators and progression-blocking doors that are scattered throughout the game. And when I say an absurd amount I really mean it. You can’t go multiple rooms apart from your co-op partner. It brings the game pacing down to a screeching stop and it can be infuriating, even on PC with the game installed on SSD. Or the fact that the side quests in the game use the exact same environments. You will often wonder if you’ve done them before.
The game-changing co-op mode
Whilst the gameplay is a mixed bag of changes to the formula, Dead Space 3 is still an incredibly solid shooter. There is one change that stood out the most, and that’s the co-op. Dead Space 3 can be played from beginning to end with a co-op partner and that made some exciting changes. Cutscenes and gameplay scenarios will play out slightly differently, as well as opening a host of new sidequests that evolve Carver’s personal story. It’s an ambitious undertaking to create a co-op experience that so seamlessly changes the whole game.
As a cooperative shooter, Dead Space 3 really starts to show its full potential story moments will change to bring Carver into the picture; including pretty much his entire character development and co-op exclusive sidequests that will cause one player to hallucinate things that aren’t there. It’s an interesting idea that brings a psychological element to the game, but isn’t developed enough at all.
Cutscenes will also change depending on if you are playing with a friend or not. This is because Carver will either go with Ellie or follow Isaac on his missions. Whilst a great idea in its own right, it is lacking in its execution. To start, a lot of the cutscenes with Carver tend to play out exactly the same, and the only major difference is how awkwardly Carver tries to get involved. He either walks off-screen or tries his hardest to stay in the frame with some awkward dialogue that nobody really acknowledges. Like Norton’s big betrayal in the second act, Carver just stands there looking at him like a puppy.
Once again, for everything that it does right, it does something just as wrong. With the lesser emphasis on resources, this is even worse in co-op, as you will each have your own separate loot pools. This removes a lot of the strategy and cooperating from the co-op shooter. Still, playing this game with a friend is absolutely the way to go. I’ve done multiple playthroughs, and despite some of the issues with pacing and the constant elevators, it’s an absolute blast. Honestly, I will probably play through it again at some point. Much like Resident Evil 5,it brought changes to the franchise that probably weren’t welcome, but did it in such a way you can pick it up with a friend and just have a good time. In the end, isn’t that what really matters?
Dead Space 3 did also get a story expansion set after the events of the main game. Whilst it was a step in the right direction, bringing the darker tone and horror back in proved to be a narrative mess. Set almost immediately after the events of the main game; Ellie has returned to Earth leaving the assumed dead Isaac and Carver on Tau Volantis. Somehow surviving a fall to the planet, they begin looking for a way back home, but surviving Unitologist members are in the way.
Long story short, it is Carver and Isaac making their way back up to the old SCAF ships to try and find a way home after getting alarming news that the moons aren’t dead, and are in fact making their way to earth. However, as soon as they arrive they realise they are way too late. It’s a bit dumb and the cliffhanger really wasn’t deserved especially since we never even got a sequel with the tragic shutdown of Volition Games. An apparent fourth entry was planned, that would have seen Ellie Langford take charge as the game’s protagonist, but never really got realised.
Where Awakened did succeed was in bringing a touch of that horror and cosmic dread back into Dead Space. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still not scary at all, with the game focusing heavily on that action. But the Unitologist returning to cult-like behaviour, rather than militaristic, was refreshing. It has some brutal imagery and an entertaining unnamed villain who acts as the voice of the Brethren Moons. For a story DLC, I personally found this to be a worthwhile addition, even if it’s a brief three hours with mostly retreading old environments. Its changes were at least compelling.
On the topic of DLCs, I feel like it’s fair to mention something that absolutely shouldn’t be in a game like Dead Space: microtransactions! That’s right! this relatively short game has microtransactions. These range from resource packs to upgrades for a scavenger bot that will allow you to passively gain resources. For a franchise where managing a limited number of resources is a core focus, this is a baffling choice.
Aged surprisingly well
Considering it’s now ten years old, Dead Space 3 looks remarkably well. The first act lacks a bit of creativity with a ship section that is just a bit boring, but once you get down to Tau Volantis the visual design really opens up, as we have a much different yet welcoming environment. The frozen planet is superb with some great vistas and of course, enemy designs. The one exception is with the SKIP (fast travel) cutscenes that have a pre-rendered video outputting at 480p in the window. Really weird, but since you will only be using these a few times, it’s not the biggest deal.
It even has full Ultrawide support even in cutscenes however you will need to limit your framerate to 60FPS outside of the game using NVIDIA Control Panel or the AMD equivalent as physics are actually tied to the frame rate. It’s not as extensive as say Skyrim but Necropmorphs will go flying occasionally.
Like-wise voice acting is pretty good. Gunner Wright obviously returning as Isaac provides an iconic performance and we really need him in more games, especially after his work in the remake. Likewise, despite being not exactly the most interesting character Carver’s performance was pretty good with some compelling scenes that really delve into so. As a duo these work well together and having Isaac be there for Carvers Marker episodes was superb, Isaac has already been through all that so he knows just how hard it is. The rest of the cast is also solid but it’s the soundtrack that really sells it.
Was Dead Space 3 really that bad?
Well, it’s a complicated question. Dead Space 3 is undeniably the weakest of the trilogy. It’s a game that deviates so far from the original formula, that it throws a lot of what made Dead Space special in the first place out of the window. Although, where it does make up for it is one of the best cooperative shooters on the market, even after all this time. Do I recommend playing this game ten years later? Hell yes. But make sure your expectations are in the right place. It has a lot of problems that bring it down.